By Jeremy Gottlieb, Patriots Daily Staff

It’s finally here. The Patriots trip to Denver comes in just two days and that means it’s time for them to get their taste of TEBOWMANIA! The Broncos QB is Tim Tebow, in case you haven’t heard of him, and at last look, he’s 7-1 as a starter, has his team in first place in its division and primed for the post-season and is able to leap tall buildings in a single bound while simultaneously walking on water and healing sick children by merely touching them.

OK, those last three things may not quite be true. But you’d think they were judging by atmosphere around this guy. He’s a miracle worker, not just winning games but pulling them out of thin air when it seemed they were unsalvageable. Last week against the Bears, Denver was down 10-0 with two minutes left and won. The Broncos didn’t score the first 12 times they had the ball, and won. Tebow saves it for when it matters most; he’s completed 61 percent of his passes for 770 yards in the fourth quarters of games this year while completing just 38.7 percent of his passes for just 520 yards in the first three quarters combined.

Sure, it’s hard to explain, and there are some in the media who sit in front of the cameras and wring their hands and chirp about how maybe it’s magical or something. Then, shell-shocked, sore loser opponents like the Bears Brian Urlacher are asked about him and respond with quips like, “He’s a great running back.”

He’s polarizing, whether it’s because of his unorthodox style (some of the local radio types still refuse to give the guy credit despite all of the wins because they don’t like his arm) or his constant religious proclamations. But really, who cares? The object of the game is to win, and if you do it legally, what difference does it make how you do it or what you say about it before and after?

The Pats should beat Denver on Sunday, despite their franchise’s history of problems playing out there. The Broncos have a very good defense, but if the Pats can put up some points early, even with their lousy defense, they should be able to hold off Tebow and hand him his second loss.

But if the game’s close in the fourth quarter, especially late? Watch out.


This Week’s Five Best Teams

1. Green Bay: The Packers, who are coming up on the one-year anniversary of their last loss (and who haven’t lost a game with Aaron Rodgers under center in going on 13 months), led Oakland 31-0 with over seven minutes remaining in the first half last Sunday and 34-0 in the third quarter before the Raiders scored their first points of the afternoon. They’re pretty good. The Packers, not the Raiders.

2. (tie) Baltimore/Pittsburgh: Even though the Ravens own the tiebreaker, it’s impossible to see these two teams as anything but completely intertwined. The Steelers escaped the Browns last Thursday night at home while Baltimore stomped on the hopeless Colts at home on Sunday. The schedule suggests that both teams will finish 13-3, giving the AFC North to the Ravens. But Sunday night in San Diego, against a Chargers team that always plays its best late when all hope seems lost, looks like a very big game.

3. New Orleans: The Saints should have lost at Tennessee last week, only to survive thanks to Titans rookie QB Jake Locker’s late-game inexperience. But a win is a win, Drew Brees threw for 337 more yards and now, New Orleans doesn’t have to play another game outdoors until a potential NFC Championship showdown at Lambeau Field in late January.

4. New England: One of these weeks, possibly even in the playoffs, the Pats earth-shatteringly awful defense will not be able to bailed out by Tom Brady and their earth-shatteringly outstanding offense. Sunday in Denver will not be that week.

5. Houston: Now T.J. Yates, a rookie, fifth-round pick (121st overall) who didn’t take a single rep in practice for the first 10 weeks of the season, is leading fourth quarter, game-winning drives for the 10-3, current No. 1 seed in the AFC Texans. The kid looks like he’ll be just fine come playoff time. This team and its performance amidst a ton of crappy circumstances all season long (seven straight wins and counting) is one of the stories of the year.


This Week’s Five Worst Teams

1. Indianapolis: 0-13. Next stop, 0-16. Adios, Jim Caldwell and your frozen face. And so long, Bill Polian and your tone-deaf, smug, superciliousness. It’s always been the M.O. around here to root against the Colts but it’s hard to remember when it was so much fun to root for them to lose.

2. St. Louis: Those who believe Rams offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels should be a serious candidate for the now vacant Kansas City Chiefs head coaching job, should simply watch the tape of the St. Louis O in its Monday night loss to Seattle, particularly in the red zone. Or the tape of any of the games that offense, ranked dead last in the league, has played all year. McDaniels is a favorite here and it would be great to see him get another shot at being a head coach somewhere down the road. But based on his not quite two-year tenure in Denver followed by this year’s disaster in St. Louis, he’s not ready yet.

3. Tampa Bay: Young teams that overachieve always come crashing down to earth in the NFL but it’s difficult to remember a fall as precipitous as the one suffered by the Bucs this season. After coming out of nowhere to go 10-6 last season and featuring one of the league’s brightest young coaches in Raheem Morris, Tampa has followed up a 3-1 start with losses in eight of its last nine, including seven in a row, the most recent of which was a 41-14 shellacking at the hands of the (wait for it…) Jacksonville Jaguars??!!?? There’s some scuttlebutt now that Morris may get the gate if the Bucs lose to Dallas tomorrow night (hint: they will), putting a giant, turd-laced exclamation point on one of the most head-scratching freefalls seen in the NFL in some time.

4. Minnesota: Give the Vikings credit; without Adrian Peterson, with their QB knocked out of the game and on the road, they nearly overcame two 21-point deficits against Detroit last week (they were first-and-goal at the 1 with just over a minute left down by six). That doesn’t mean they’re any good, but it does mean that they aren’t satisfied with sucking and in a season that appears doomed to end absolutely no better than 4-12, such a development is surely welcome by their fans, coaches and front office types alike.

5. Cleveland: There can’t ever, ever seem to be any positive news about the Browns. This week after nearly knocking off the Steelers in Pittsburgh, coaches, players and head honcho Mike Holmgren were forced to answer one question after another about why QB Colt McCoy was sent back into the game one play after getting his blocked knocked off on a brutal helmet-to-helmet hit. McCoy had a concussion, no one administered an exam on the sideline and no less than his father went to the press to talk about what a dangerous organization the Cleveland one is. Oh by the way, the Browns have played in one playoff game in 15 years. Yep, they lost.


What’s Trendy

– Eli Manning, Giants: The little Manning has truly made the leap this year. Even though the Giants went in the tank after beating the Pats back in Week 9, it wasn’t because of Manning, who posted passer ratings of 85 or better in three of the Giants four straight losses. Then on Sunday night, with the Giants down 12 with just over three minutes left against Dallas, he saved their season with two picture-perfect TD drives in a 37-34 win. Manning finished the game with 400 yards and a couple of TDs while playing about as well in the fourth quarter as any QB in the league. If the Giants are going anywhere, a tough task given all of their injuries, Manning will have to take them there and man, does he look up to the challenge.

– Maurice Jones-Drew, Jaguars: In a dismal season featuring one disappointment after another, Jacksonville’s best player blew up on Sunday. The Jags fell behind Tampa 14-0 before running off 41 straight points, 28 of which were scored by Jones-Drew. He finished the day with 136 total yards (85 rushing, 51 receiving) and four TDs and now has 1,222 yards on the ground (4.4 YPA), 348 through the air and 10 total TDs. Reason for hope in Northwest Florida.

John Skelton, Cardinals: Why isn’t anyone talking about this guy like Tebow? Skelton, pressed back into action against the division leading 49ers after starter Kevin Kolb took about seven minutes to get hurt yet again, won his fifth game of the year with a stellar 19-of-28, 282-yard three TD performance in a 21-19 victory. The Cardinals, now unbelievably 6-7, are 5-2 when Skelton plays. With games against Cleveland, Cincinnati and Seattle left, it’s not unfathomable that Arizona could finish 9-7 and challenge for a playoff spot. As long as Skelton keeps playing.


What’s Not

– Marion Barber, Bears: Barber could have been the hero in last week’s inexplicable Bears loss to the Broncos. But he ran out of bounds late in the fourth quarter when Chicago was trying to run out the clock, opening the door for a last second field goal that sent the game into OT, then fumbled in the extra session with thr Bears already in range for a game-winning kick. Was it Tebow channeling God? Nah, it was just Barber, a good running back, screwing up twice at the worst possible times.

– The 49ers offense: The Niners have the worst red zone offense in the NFL and it’s not even close. This team, so so impressive the first 12 weeks of the year, has been exposed offensively in losing two of its last three. They’ve already won the NFC West but their stranglehold on the No. 2 seed and a home playoff game is now tenuous at best. Winning on Monday night against Pittsburgh, arguably the Niners biggest game of the year, is of the utmost importance.

– James Harrison, Steelers: So Harrison a noted headhunter, dirty player and king-sized asshole, was responsible for the hit that scrambled Colt McCoy’s eggs in that game against the Browns last week. With two whole seconds to adjust after McCoy released a pass, Harrison crowned the defenseless QB anyway, because he does things like that. It was his fifth offense of the like in the last two years and the NFL wisely suspended him for this week’s game against San Francisco. Naturally, Harrison was defiant in the aftermath, again crying that he can’t change how he plays and it’s so unfair and if he’d really wanted to hurt McCoy he would have. One wonders what his reaction will be when he paralyzes someone since after all, he can’t stop himself from leading with the crown of his helmet and won’t try to change. Probably more of the same. What a coward James Harrison is. He’s a great player, but that’s overshadowed but his endlessly awful behavior.


And finally…

When the Chiefs fired Todd Haley this past week, it was slightly surprising. Rumors had been flying for some time that Haley was having trouble getting along with GM Scott Pioli (as well as seemingly everyone else he’s ever spent five minutes with) but the Chiefs accomplishment in winning the AFC West last year along with the rash of injuries that’s infected the team this year suggested that maybe Haley would have some more time. What wasn’t remotely surprsing though, was when the Dolphins fired coach Tony Sparano later that same day. Talk about a foregone conclusion, this move has been in the works since last January; the only unexpected aspect of the story was that it took bumbling Dolphins owner Stephen Ross so long to pull the trigger.

When the Dolphins were 0-7, it should have happened. But since the team was playing hard, mostly in support of Sparano, who they knew was in a no-win situation, making it more difficult a proposition from a P.R. standpoint (not that P.R. is even close to Ross’s strong suit). Then, the Dolphins won three in a row and four out of five (it should have been five out of five; Miami had Dallas beat on Thanksgiving) and the proposition became that much more difficult. It took the Dolphins 26-10 loss to the Eagles last Sunday to finally seal Sparano’s fate. It was the first time in nearly two months that Miami wasn’t competitive, opening the door for Ross and GM Jeff Ireland to do the dirty work.

In the immediate aftermath, the Dolphins proved that they are lost, coach or no coach. As soon as Ross got done telling the media he’d be looking for a “young Don Shula-type” to take the reins, Ireland (who, by the way, should have been fired to if Sparano was indeed getting the gate) spoke of how necessary it would be for Miami to find someone “with experience, who’s been down there in the trenches.” Well? Which one is it, guys? You think maybe you should get on the same page regarding what you’ll be looking for in your next coach?

The Dolphins looked like maybe they’d turned something of a corner at 0-5 when they started just missing, then winning. Now, they look like a mess again. Like there are incompetent people running the show. Ross doesn’t want Ireland so he’s apparently going to hire former Chiefs and Eagles GM Carl Peterson as team president instead of just fire Ireland too. There’s no rhyme or reason to why this franchise does anything, starting with the circus Ross has been presiding over since buying the team a few years ago, and extending to why they haven’t been able procure any QBs who can actually play since Dan Marino retired. The next four or five months will tell us a lot about whether or not the Dolphins know what they’re doing, from who they hire as head coach to who they draft and go after in free agency (hint: A QUARTERBACK). For the sake of their dwindling fan base, which has been disappointed over and over again for years now, let’s hope they figure it out.